#metoo

But of course…me too.

me-too

This month’s scandal of a powerful man, Harvey Weinstein, using that power to manipulate, harass, and assault women spread beyond the safe confines of the online news/entertainment world. On Sunday, rather than watch (or simply ignore) another story of sexual assault, men everywhere have had their twitter feeds and Facebook pages fill-up with “me too” from the women they follow, know, and even love. According to Facebook, 45% of people are friends with someone who posted the message “me too.”

Emboldened, saddened, and haunted, I wondered what the online institutional and para-institutional Christian response would be. Would leading pastors step up and say something—anything, really? Would the host of Christian women who blog share their stories? Do they even have similar stories? Sarah Bessey posted. A few bloggers at Patheos posted, Christianity Today is largely quiet (apart from a piece by Ed Stetzer last week related to Weinstein but not the flood of women posting since Sunday night). So I started checking the social media of big churches and their pastors, particularly influential Evangelical churches with active social media pages. I checked Mars Hill (and their former pastor, Rob Bell), Saddleback, Willow Creek, Redeemer NYC, and even my own church’s social media feed to name a few.

The process was revealing. First and foremost, at an institutional level, I found silence.[1]

Perhaps this silence is because Christian women are never harassed, never assaulted. Perhaps Christian women have no stories to share and thus their pastors (be they men or women) have no need to post words of solidarity, acknowledgement, and justice. But I know this is not the case. Christian men, including pastors, have certainly seen the flood of posts and status updates from women they know. And Christian women are sexually harassed and assaulted, too.

Perhaps this silence is because of the still-pervasive models of gender-construction that cast men as agents, women as objects, and thus renders women culpable. The man’s job is to pursue, the women’s to receive or rebuff. Stated so blatantly, many will reject this model. But this game of offense/defense continues to shape western Christian culture, and not just because of certain pastor’s teachings on biblical manhood and womanhood or the complementarity between the sexes. Beginning with stories as widespread as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, little girls are presented with models of female passivity. When these narratives of male agency and female receptivity are given biblical sanction and shape sexual relationships, it is easy for harassment—and even assault—to be dismissed as “boys being boys” and “locker-room talk.” In fact, such assaults are apparently so insignificant that they don’t disqualify a person from being elected President of the United States. In this model, if a woman fails to successfully fend off advances, then she has failed in her assigned role. The words, “It wasn’t your fault,” ring hallow when the dominant narrative structure suggests otherwise. And where does complicity begin? How many times must a person say “no”? If a woman “surrenders her body to its fate,” as Garcia Marquez writes when Sierva Maria is assaulted by Fr. Cayetano Delaura in Of Love and Other Demons, is she complicit, even at fault? (In case you are wondering, the answer is no.)

Perhaps this silence is because of the squeamishness that Evangelical purity culture breeds. Women who say “me too” mark themselves as sexual beings, regardless of their unwillingness to participate in a situation…and we all know that being marked as sexual is essentially inappropriate for church—after all, it might make the men think naughty thoughts. If this squeamishness is the reason we limit discussions of sexual harassment and assault to whispers in women’s groups, the church has yet to figure out that harassment and assault are not about sex. There is nothing stimulating or sexy about being in a non-consenting situation.

Silence breeds silence. And for women who have been ascribed the role of victim/survivor (at best) and sinner/slut (at worst), the ongoing silence of the church reinforces the feeling that their experiences are inappropriate, dirty, and shameful. It is time for the church—particularly for leaders within the church—to break this culture of silence. We must get over our collective squeamishness and repent of any constructions of gender that have been complicit in the abuse of women if we are going to offer any redemptive vision of what it means to be human. We must find ways to name and denounce sexual injustice that actually free women from the cycle of shame and silence. And if someone has been so blessed as to not experience sexual harassment or assault, they need to be willing to see this very broken part of human culture for what it is and stand in solidarity with those who live with this reality everyday.

To Christian women who find themselves too weighed down to write “me too” and to Christian men who continue to be either too blind or too uncomfortable to help break this deadening silence, please remember that some of Jesus’ first followers were sex-workers. They knew abuse, harassment, and the feelings of shame, complicity, fear, and emptiness shared by so many posting “me too.” And the men were certainly uncomfortable with these women, with their pasts, and with Jesus’ response to them. Yet Jesus welcomed these women into his rag-tag band, ate with them, even allowed himself to be touched by them in a profound reversal of human agency and physical contact. Jesus’ actions—combined with open acknowledgement of these women’s stories—declared these women were loved, accepted, and free. He even went so far as to condemn the men who participated in these systems of sexual injustice. It’s no wonder the women followed him all the way to the cross.

But Jesus’ solidarity and justice isn’t just for those lucky first-century women who walked with him. When facing some of the darker moment of my own “me too” story, a wise pastor reminded me that all the horrible things people do to us—all our suffering, all our undeserved shame and guilt, the queasiness that never quite goes away—all these were nailed to Jesus on the cross. And we should never be ashamed (or let others make us feel ashamed) of what Jesus has paid such a great price to redeem.

Jessica Hughes

 

[1] Attempting to track anything on social media is daunting and largely limited to a person’s niche knowledge, so please accept my apologies if I missed an important statement from a leading thinker!

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4 responses to “#metoo

  1. Yes, Jessica…some of us do stand up and say me too. Check out my recent blog post. I’ve heard too many stories, cried with too many women and men, and walked with them in the journey of healing to stay silent. True long lasting healing causes us to not only talk about it but to look at our responses to life and relationships because of it. May we stand together, say no to abuse, and walk with others who are suffering!

    • Thank you so much for reading and for your comment! Like you, I know many Christian women (and men) who, even in the past few days, have decided the time is right to speak out or to stand in solidarity with their friends—and others who choose to remain silent. I support each of their decisions. But this post isn’t really about private individuals and bloggers like you and me who are trying to raise awareness—we’re doing our part! I’m particularly concerned with the wider institutional silence (and silence on the part of the leading public faces of Christianity) whenever issues of sexual assault and harassment by men in power arise. It isn’t that the church doesn’t teach that sexual harassment and assault are bad—it does. But like so many things, saying something is bad (sexism, racism, poverty) is different from actively and publicly wrestling with the issue and wrestling with our communities’ roles in perpetuating such systems. I echo your words: May we stand together in breaking down the structures that continue to abuse and find ways to foster healing and human flourishing!

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  2. I agree that there’s been too much silence. Which, given the problems which have existed in many Christian circles in recent years (most notably my denomination, Catholicism), is not the sort of response that should be given. While I made a post on “Me Too” it takes much more than one person for the Church Universal to respond in a way that Jesus would be proud of.

  3. Brendan,
    Thank you for stopping by WonderingFair. I read your post just now at Blind Injustice—thank you for what you said there! Clearly I agree with you–it takes many voices, and particularly the voices of those who hold power and have the biggest public voices, if issues of systemic injustice are going to ever change. Peace and blessings on your work.

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